Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Aniane Salon 2013

The annual Aniane salon is a great way to catch up on what is happening around Aniane and Montpeyroux. Like the Faugères fete it provides an opportunity to see some friends and taste some new vintages of old favourites, and maybe  make a new discovery or two.   Inevitably tasting conditions are not ideal, but not impossible. 

First stop was Virgile Joly.  His 2012 Joly Blanc is really good this year.   A blend of Grenache Blanc and Roussanne.  A lovely explosion of fruit, with some fresh herbal notes.  Rounded with good acidity, and nicely zingy and fresh.   7.20€

Domaine des Conquêtes.
I like their white wine so much more than their reds. And their 2011 white, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault is delicious.  Definitely  up to scratch.  10.30€  A blend of Vermentino, Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc and Chenin Blanc.  Very fresh herbal notes on the nose and more herbs and fruit on the palate.   A satisfying balance of acidity.  A lovely glass of wine.

I tasted the range of Château de Jonquières, that lovely property on edge of the eponymous village.  Charlotte de la Cabissole, and her husband Clement, have just taken over the running of the estate, on her parents’ retirement. 

2010 White, Grenache Blanc and Chenin. 50 / 50  Pays de l’Hérault.   14.00€  10 months in oak.  Quite a rounded nose and palate, with a note of apricots. The oak is nicely integrated.

Rosé – 8.00€  90% Cinsaut pressed, and 10% Carignan saigné.  The Carignan gives an extra nuance to the Carignan.  Very pale colour.  Fresh nose.  Quite an aromatic nose and a rounded palate.  Good balance.

2011 Terrasses du Larzac – 11.00€   All five grape varieties, but predominantly Cinsaut and Carignan.  Élevage in vat.  Good colour.  The nose was a touch reductive but there was some good fruit on the palate.

2009 Lansade, Pays de l’Hérault  13.00€   50% Carignan with Syrah Grenache and Mourvèdre.  Not AC, as there is one plot that is not classified within the appellation. 8 months in wood.  Quite solid and rounded with some youthful fruit and good potential.

2009 La Baronnie, Terrasses du Larzac – 16.00€   Syrah, Mourvèdre and a little Grenache.  18 months in wood.  Firm structured nose, and on the palate quite solid, dense and ripe.  Good body and plenty of potential.

Les Chemins de Carabote at St. André de Sangonis.  I’ve always enjoyed these wines in the past, and his year was no exception.

2011 Rosé. Languedoc - 6.00€   A blend of Syrah and Grenache.  Nicely rounded nose and a ripe vinous palate.   A food rosé. 

2010 Carignan, Mont Baudile  - 7.00€  Average yield 35 hl/ha.  Rounded berry fruit on and nose and palate, with a tannic streak.  Nicely rustic and rounded fruit.   A lovely example of Carignan.

2010 Languedoc – 6.50€   A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan.  Deep young colour  Fresh spice on nose and palate.  Black fruit and spice, with supple tannins.  Medium weight and quite gourmand.

2009 Terrasses du Larzac.  18 months élevage.  Medium colour.  Ripe spicy liqueur cherries.  Quite solid and ripe with cherry fruit, and a tannic streak, and a bit alcoholic on finish.

La Reserve d’O
Of all Marie Chauffray’s  wines, I liked 2012 Sansoo best of all.  So called as she uses no sulphur.  It is a St.  Saturnin, a blend of Syrah, Cinsaut and Grenache, with a fresh nose, and on the palate, very fresh and ripe with some dry spice.  Six months ageing in vat.  A lovely summer red, best served slightly chilled.  11.00€

Next came my discovery of the day, la Voute de Verdus.

Pierre Estival explained that his father had twenty hectares of vines around St. Jean de Fos and Aniane and that he takes his grapes to the Gignac coop.  However, Pierre has studied oenology at Montpellier university and wanted to do his own thing, so two hectares have been extracted from the coop.  He has a small cellar in St. Guilhem le Désert and 2011 was his first vintage.   He may make some white wine in 2013.

2011 rosé – 6.00€   Cinsaut with a little Syrah, AC Languedoc  Light fresh; light fresh body.  Medium weight.  Easy fruit.

2011 Languedoc,  - 9.00€  A blend of Syrah and Grenache.  Vinified in vat.  Fresh and spicy, with rounded fruit.  Easy drinking. 

2011 Le Grand Saut – 16.00€   45% each of Carignan and Mourvèdre, with 5% each of Syrah and Grenache, or thereabouts.  12 months in wood.  In 225 litres barrels, two new and two of one fill.  Quite a rounded nose; good fruit on the palate and well integrated oak. Nicely concentrated.  Although the vines are  within the Terrasses du Larzac, this cannot be Terrasses du Larzac as the wine is made in St. Guilhem, which is not part of the Terrasses  du Larzac.  Another example of French bureaucracy.

Domaine de Familongue has a rosé Trois Naissances that they have vinified in barrel.  It is very successful, with a nice edge of oak and vanilla, with rounded fruit and body on the palate.  A food rosé, with some lovely depth.   6.40€

And I always enjoy tasting the wines of Cal Demoura.  Isabelle was there and so it was a good opportunity for an update.

2012 Rosé, Coteaux du Languedoc  Qu’es Aquo  - Rounded and ripe with good depth.  A food rosé.

2012 L’Etincelle,  Pays de l’Hérault - 14.50€ Quite frim and herbal on the nose, with some leesy character on the palate.  Good depth.  50% Chenin, with Grenache, Roussanne, Viognier, Muscat and Petit Manseng.  Lots of intriguing nuances.

2011 Paroles de Pierres, 19.00€ - 70% Chenin with some Roussanne and a little Grenache and Petit Manseng.  Bottled March 2013 so longer élevage than for l’Etincelle.  Quite tight knit palate with dry honey.  Very stylish with satisfying depth.

2011 l’Infidèle, Terrasses du Larzac   15.00€ - All five varieties of the Languedoc, so in declining order, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan , Cinsaut.  Very elegant nose.  Youthful concentration and some lovely red fruit.  Good balance.  Fresh but ripe.

2011 les Combariolles 22.00€ - 40% Syrah and Mourvèdre, with 15% Carignan and just 5% Grenache.  The stony vineyard vies minerality.  Firmer structured and denser than l’Infidèle, and quite a gutsy mouthful but still retaining some elegance.

2011 Feu Sacré, Terrasses du Larzac. – 36.00€  - 80% old Grenache, 70 years old vines, with Carignan and Syrah.  Bottled in April  Rounded and richer than l’Infidèle, but also elegant.  Good fruit and structure.  Immediately warmer.  Ageing potential. 

Jean-Claude Zabalia was there, showing la Bergerie d’Aniane.   See a  previous post.  I stopped for a chat, but didn’t need to taste again.

And a sweet note on which to finish – Promenade en Novembre, les Chemins de Carabote.  16.00€ for 50 cls.  Grenache surmûris.  Liquid liqueur cherries and chocolate, and a touch of fig.  Rich and ripe, with layers of flavour.

And then the swimming pool called,  but at least the Chapelle des Penitents in Aniane is a wonderful cool building  and works very well for a tasting, provided you can avoid the odd toddler, pushchair and dog!  And don't plan to write very detailed tasting notes.  

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

A day of Muscats

I spent a day exploring Muscat de Frontignan and Muscat de Mireval, which are two of the key appellations for Muscat Vin Doux Naturel in the Languedoc.  The other two are Muscat de Lunel and Muscat de St. Jean de Minervois.  Andthere is of course Muscat de Rivesaltes in Roussillon.  I was with my tasting buddy, Lits, which is always good for comparing notes,  and it has to be said that our impressions were mixed.  We went to four different producers.

Château de Stony, outside Frontignan just north of the village of la Peyrade, is an old established estate and has been producing wine for five generations.   Their Muscats are delicious, not only the fortified wines, but also their late harvest wine, Lumière d’Automne.   But things are obviously tough.  Muscat is a much less popular drink that it was.  Drink driving laws have become much more severe in France and most Muscat is drunk as an aperitif, so that is what people give up most easily, rather than wine with the meal.  So at Château de Stony they have planted red varieties and are diversifying into red wine.  It is a brave move; I am not sure how suitable the coastal vineyards are for red wine, when you consider all the wonderful wild hills of the hinterland.   I also liked their Muscat Sec, Cuvée Amelièr, which is an almond tree in Occitan.  Lydie Nodat explained that putting Muscat on the front label can put people off; Muscat is a flavour that people have strong views about, so they will immediately say that they don’t like it, without even trying it.  

That turned out to be quite a short visit, so we thought we might pop into the Frontignan coop.   We were lucky; it does not close at lunch time during July and August and the two lively ladies, Valerie and Nathalie, who were running the shop, were very happy to give us a tasting of the coop’s entire range of wines.   The coop represents about 80% of the appellation and the wines are well made and very representative of the appellation.  And the surprise was two delicious Muscats that had been aged in barrel, a 12 ans d’age, and a 20 ans d’age.    The first came from wines that were a minimum of 12 years old, and the second was made from wines that were all 20 years old.  It was rich and nutty, not unlike a liquid sherry trifle, with some honey and spice and a touch of caramel and a long finish.   The shop is very welcoming; I was amused by a notice that prescribed minimum dress – they do not want you coming in straight off the beach – and another noticed offered spittoon facilities if you wanted to taste.   And you can buy Muscat based sweets, pâtes de Muscat de Frontignan and bonbons au Marc de Muscat, as well as jars of local honey and other goodies.

And then we went on to Domaine de la Rencontre which is a new estate in Muscat de Mireval, just outside the village of Mireval.  Julie and Pierre Viudes made their first wine in 2010 and are highly motivated and very keen to put their wines on the map and raise the quality bar.   More on them anon.    The coop was the surprise of the day; but they were undoubtedly the highlight. 

Last visit of the day was to Mas Rouge, a large property in the bois des Aresquiers and close to the sea and the étangs.   The Chemiral family bought it as a very rundown property in 1997 and have extensively restored it.  The old cellar is a magnificent space with pristine stainless steel and concrete tanks, as well as barrels and a couple of old carts for decoration.  Julien Chemiral gave us a comprehensive tasting.  He too has diversified, making  white, red and rosé wines, as well as both Muscat de Mireval and Muscat de Frontignan.  It was interesting to compare the two side by side; both wines are vinified in exactly the same way, with the same amount of residual sugar, but there was a difference in taste.  The wine from Mireval seemed lighter and more elegant, with some lemony notes, while the Frontignan was richer and more concentrated.   However, you sense that  wine is not necessarily the main focus of the estate, as it also provides an attractive venue for weddings and other functions.   It does seem difficult to make a living from Muscat alone. 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Faugères fête 2013

The Faugères fête is a regular event in the calendar – fixed for the second Sunday in July, which this year also happened to coincide with Bastille Day.  I have learnt from experience that the best time to arrive is first thing, 10 a.m. on the dot, before temperatures have risen and the streets have filled up.   It does seem to be the same core of wine producers who represent their appellation each year– but it is fun to catch up with some familiar faces.   These were the highlights.

Paul Gordon from Domaine de Sarabande was pouring his 2011 reds, Misterioso was a ripe spicy blend of Grenache and Syrah, while his Faugères was more classic, a blend of Grenache Carignan and Syrah with some fleshy spicy fruit. 

An interesting  conversation with Brigitte Chevalier from Domaine de Cébène.  She is developing a scheme for saving old Carignan vines , a plot of 70 to 100 year old vines that would otherwise be pulled up.  You can become a godfather, a parrain, or a godmother or marrain to a Carignan vine for 55€ for three years, or for 85€ 5 years, in return for which you will receive a bottle of Belle Lurette each year, and also preferential prices for Brigitte’s other wines.  Or if you prefer Mourvèdre, that is an option too, at 95€ for three years, or 155€ for five years, and then you receive a bottle of Felgaria each year.   I thought it was a fun idea and have opted for Carignan.   For more details contact Brigitte on

Simon Coulshaw from Domaine des Trinités was pouring lots of wine.  I tried his nicely rounded Roussanne, and some lightly peachy Viognier and a refreshing rosé, and should have gone back to taste his reds.  But somehow that didn’t happen.  Sorry Simon.

Another estate I have earmarked for a visit is Château Haut-Lignières, with a delicious rosé and some satisfying reds.   

Françoise Ollier’s wines from Domaine Ollier Taillefer are always worth a taste.  She poured me a glass of her latest vintage of les Collines, calling it Rosemary’s chouchou ….. I am not quite sure of the exact translation of that, but you probably get the idea.   Anyway it was delicious with some lovely spicy fruit and a fresh finish.   And I also enjoyed the two cuvées  of Domaine de l’Ancienne Mercerie, les Petites Mains and Couture. 

I’ve driven past Mas des Capitelles, as thought I should at least stopped and taste, but was not thrilled.  Nor did Domaine du Météore excite me as much as I might have expected.  To be fair this could be temperature related.

And then the Confrérie of Faugères started coming down the street, which was my cue to follow them down to the podium that had been set up in the car park, as they wanted to make me a Chevalier of the Confrérie.  So I fell in alongside Jean Albe who is the Grand Maître of the Confrérie de Sant’Andiu de la Galiniero– which concerns the wines of Beziers.  He was dressed in full regalia, and there were other confréries – from Picpoul de Pinet, and for wines from the Gard and Narbonne, as well as olives and some biscuits and pâtés. Everyone was dressed in heavy robes and funny hats.

For the intronisation, I was in good company, with Jacques Gravegeal.  But first the very elegant lady mayor of Faugères made a speech, - she could have been going to a Paris cocktail party - and then it was the turn of Nathalie from Domaine de l’Ancienne Mercerie.  She is president of the appellation Faugères and she compared the constraints of an appellation with the liberty of the vins de pays.  This was relevant as Jacques Gravegeal has been much involved with the development of the Vins de Pays d’Oc and is now president of Intersud de France, an organisation which groups wines from all over Languedoc-Roussillon.

And then it was time for the ceremony; a fanfare to welcome you up on stage; you were given a heavy gold velvet robe to wear – just the thing for a warm summer’s day.   The officers of the Confrérie of Faugères were dressed in tapestry coats.  A member of the Confrérie explained why they thought you should be a member of the Confrérie, based on what you had already told them about your CV and then you had to drink some Faugères – it was the coop’s Mas Olivier.  I don’t know what they would have said if you had said you didn’t like it, as you then had to say:
J’ai gouté; J’ai aimé.
Ambassadeur, or in my case Ambassadrice, je serai.   
And then you were given a gold colour tastevin which looks a bit like a scallop shell, were dubbed on both shoulders with a vine branch and presented with  a rather smart certificate, for which I now need to find some wall space.  M. Gravegeal, the consummate politician that he is, said a few words, but fortunately I was able to avoid that honour.  I told the lady mayor that it was too hot for any more speeches, and any case you could sense that most people wanted their aperitif….

 We had an appointment in Catherine Roque’s tasting caveau, Mas d'Alezon, which is conveniently situated by the church in Faugères, a cool vaulted room.  Her young stagiaire, Blanche, was pouring 2012 Montfalette, the mainly Mourvèdre cuvée, as well as 2011 Presbytère, with its peppery Syrah and also 2007 Presbytère which was rounded and leathery.   There was her white Cabretta 2011, with some lovely textured mineral fruit.  And then a friend of Catherine’s produced a simply delicious bottle of Chablis which turned out to be Laurent Pinson’s 1995 Mont de Milieu.  That was our aperitif, and then it was time for lunch.  

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Château La Liquière

We hear a lot about new wine growers in the Languedoc, but what about the old established estates? Château La Liquière in Faugères is one such example.   The first sales in bottle go back to the late 1960s, of wine made by Jean Vidal.   His son, Bernard, planted his own vineyards in the 1970s and then took over his father’s estate, and these days it is his two children, Sophie and François, who shoulder most of the responsibilities, but it has to be said that Bernard does not strike me as somebody who would ever completely retire.   Sophie admitted that her father is always there when they need him, and her mother is still very much involved in the administrative side of things.    

Our visit began with a look at the vineyards.  They took us up to a wonderful view point, at about 400 metres, where you could see Caussiniojouls, Laurens, Autignac and on a clear day you would be able to make out a silvery strip of sea.  On Friday it was simply too hazy in the heat.   And we admired vineyards that Bernard had planted in 1970s and a small mazet that they are restoring.   Bernard talked about the effect of altitude on the quality of Faugères.  Higher altitude suits white grapes and also Syrah; Carrigan performs better at lower altitudes.   There was a gentle breeze, despite the heat.   And since 2012 they have been registered as organic, although they have been practicing organic vulture for much longer.  Altogether they have 60 hectares of vines, in the villages of la Liquière, Caussiniojouls and Cabrerolles, in some 75 plots.  White grape varieties represent 10 hectares, with Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Vermentino, Clairette, Terret blanc, Bourboulenc, Muscat and Marsanne.  And the red varieties are the usual five classics of the Languedoc.

And then we went back to the welcoming tasting caveau in the hamlet of la Liquière.  Their cellar is in Lenthéric – the Vidals come from Lenthéric, but Bernard married a Mlle Gaillard from La Liquière.  François talked as we tasted, and it was immediately apparent that he and Sophie have known how to progress and develop their wines. 

2012 Faugères Rosé, les Amandiers – 6.40€
50% Cinsault, with Grenache and Mourvèdre.  Their Cinsaut is only used for their rosé as they do not have enough to include it in red cuvées.  Mostly pressed.  Quite a light colour, with a fresh delicate nose.  The palate is quite structured, with some fresh raspberry fruit.  Rounded with good balance.  François observed that the 20% Mourvèdre adds vigour and structure.  They’ve been adding it to their rosé for the last four years, and it has greatly improved the quality.  Their oldest Mourvèdre vines were planted in 1980.

2012 les Amandiers blanc, Coteaux du Languedoc.  
From all  their white varieties, except the Muscat, all vinified separately, à la parcelle, and blended in January and it is not Faugères, as the appellation does not include Terret blanc, even if Terret was one of the early varieties of Faugères.  It has the advantage of lowering the alcohol level, ripening at 12˚.  A very simple vinification and certainly no oak élevage.  Light colour.  Lots of nuances on the nose;  a hint herbal, a hint peachy, a touch of white blossom.  And on the palate, a peachy hint, a satisfying bitter note, what they called a legère amertume, and some white blossom and a stony mineral note. 

2012 Cistus, Faugeres Blanc – 11.20€
Roussanne is the dominant variety, with some Grenache, Vermentino and Bourboulenc.  20%, part of the Roussanne goes into barrel, and spends six months on its lees.  They put the earlier picked Roussanne into vat and the second picking into barrels, as it has more body, une belle matière. They found that Grenache doesn’t work in wood, and their barrels are 500 litres.  They have given up on barriques and have also tried 400 and 600 litre barrels.   Light golden colour.  There was quite a dry oaky note on the nose, but the oak was better integrated on the palate, which was rounded and rich, with good texture.   Quite a satisfying leesy note.  A slightly bitter note on the finish.  François feels very strongly that white wines from the Languedoc can age, and I would certainly expect this to develop with some bottle age. 

And now on to red wine, beginning with 2012 les Amandiers, Faugères rouge.  6.40€
One third each of Carignan, Syrah and Grenache, with 8 months ageing in vat.   They decide on the blend in January, and the aim is fruit, and that is what they have achieved with some ripe spice and black fruit, lots of black cherries and supple tannins.  Medium weight with a fresh streak, and a lightly tannic streak.  Spicy and gourmand, and very drinkable.

2011 Faugères Vieilles Vignes – 8.90€
Carignan and Grenache, from vines that are over 50 years old.  The cuvée classique of the estate which has existed since the beginning, when they had very little Syrah and Mourvèdre.  12 months in vat – they’ve tried an élevage in barrel, but didn’t like it.  All the grapes are destalked and the vinification is traditional; they have not used any carbonic maceration for their Faugères for the last five or six vintages.  Thirty years ago there used to be a lot of carbonic maceration all over the Languedoc, but these days people are better at mastering a classic vinification  Deep colour.  More restrained fruit compared to les Amandiers.  Spicy fruit and a touch leathery. Some red and black cherries and a ripe finish. Good backbone and structure and drinking well now. 

2011 Nos Racines – 11.70€
Carignan, planted in 1900, with just 5% Grenache.  Élevage in vat.  From the best plot – 1.80 hectares, including about 20% of old Terret that was planted, all mixed up with the Carignan.  Old gobelet vines.    Low yield at 15 – 25 hls, compared to the usual 50 hl/ha.   Made for the first time in 2005.  Good young colour.  Quite solid and rounded.  Some grainy tannins.   A very simple vinification.  'C’est la vigne qui parle'.   Quite an elegant Carignan, with some perfumed red fruit.  Quite a dry finish, with some tannins, but also some warmth.  Usually the last vine to be harvested, in late September.  Lots of character and some ageing potential.  Very elegant for a Carignan, and much less rustic than some.

2011 Cistus – 14.80€
60% Syrah, with the percentage depending on the vintage, along with Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan.  60% élevage in demi-muids, just the Syrah component, and  the Syrah grown at a higher altitude.  Deep colour.  Quite a firm nose, with a touch of vanilla.  Quite tannic on the palate, with some firm youthful fruit.  Plenty of potential.   A lot of matière,

There is one last red wine in their repertoire, Tucade, which was last made in 2009, and which focuses on Mourvèdre, with 80 – 90% in the blend.  But in 2010 the Mourvèdre was not so good; in 2011 none was made, and they have not yet decided about 2012, so for the moment, there was none to taste.

And we finished with a sympa 2012 l’Unique Gaz de Schiste –9.90€   
This is a play on words; schist is the soil of Faugères and gaz de schist is shale gas, which is also a contentious issue in France.  It's a bubbly rosé, 50% Grenache and 50% Mourvèdre, made by the méthode ancestrale, and for the first time in 2011.  The 2012 has 11 gms/l residual sugar.  The grapes were picked early September, three weeks early, in order to retain the acidity. Both varieties are pressed and vinified together, and then bottled.  There is a light filter at bottling and then the fermentation starts again in bottle. Orange pink colour,  and the wine was soft and ripe with some cherry fruit and fresh acidity, and a sweet note on the finish, making a sympa finale to an excellent tasting.  

Friday, 12 July 2013

Domaine de la Terre et du Temps

If you are walking through the old town in Pézenas, do stop at no 10, rue de la Foire.   There’s a large door that leads into a small courtyard, which features regularly on the itinerary of the tourist office.  And there you will find a small shop and tasting caveau, called La Terre et du Temps.   This is the new venture of Jean-Claude Zabalia who made a reputation for himself, running the large estate of Château St. Martin de la Garrigue outside Montagnac, for a number of years.  He made one of my favourite Picpoul, not to mention some delicious Bronzinelle.  But he had never really thought about taking on his own vineyard, or if he had, he had dismissed the idea… but circumstances changed last year when St. Martin was bought by Russian investors.  And Jean-Claude found some vineyards that he really liked, namely  the Château des Deux Rocs, in the hills above the village of Cabrières.   As a result he,  and his wife Marie, have gone into partnership with another couple, Eduard and Florence Hennebert, who own la Cure Gourmande, the highly tempting sweet and biscuit shop next door.       

Jean-Claude is particularly excited about the schist of Cabrières.  He has never worked with schist before, but the schist of Cabrières is different from that of Faugères.  Faugères is pure schist, whereas Cabrières also has some limestone outcrops.  The Pic de Vissou,  which dominates the skyline of Cabrières, and which was formed when the Pyrenees were created, is limestone.  Schist soil is acid, but illogically that does not make for acid wine, but for supple flavours.  However, the limestone adds freshness.   And also the vineyards are relatively high in altitude at 280 – 400 metres, which makes for more freshness.  Altogether there are 17 hectares in production, with a further four hectares that have been replanted; Carignan has been pulled up in favour of some white varieties, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Vermentino, as well as some Syrah.

And in addition they have bought the two and a half hectares of terraced vines in Aniane on the Massif des Brousses.  These vines constituted  Gérard Depardieu’s Midi project, L’Esprit de Fontaine.  I have tasted this wine a couple of times at the Aniane salon and have found it distinctly disappointing, and also expensive.  However, the problem was not so much with the vineyards, but with the winemaking.  Nobody was really looking after anything properly.  Consequently Jean-Claude has taken over the vineyards as well as the contents of the cellar.  The first vintage that will be properly his will be the 2013.      

And the third strand in his new venture is Picpoul de Pinet.  That is the wine that he enjoyed making at St. Martin de la Garrigue.  Apparently it is impossible to find Picpoul vineyards for sale, but he has been able to rent a couple of hectares, so the key decisions in the vineyard will be his.   The picking date is a very important decision; Picpoul ripens late and there is a tendency to pick it too early.   And he also favours an élevage on the lees which makes for more weight and flavour.

So the first bottle Jean-Claude opened was
2012 Mas Autanel, Picpoul de Pinet.  8.90€
The name is an invention; Autan is the name of the wind that comes from the sea and Autanel makes it a diminutive.  The wine had some colour and was quite ripe on the nose, with a similarly rounded palate, with some ripe fruit.  The grapes were picked on 5th October in 2012, as opposed to late September.   There was some satisfying texture, with a hint of a salty tang.

2012 Château des Rocs, Cabrières, Prémices – 7.90€
Cinsaut has always been an important component of the vineyards of Cabrières, with at least 50% in the rosé.  This wine has 60% Cinsaut along with some Grenache, and a little Syrah.  The grapes are pressed, but given a bit of skin contact in the time that it takes to fill the press, as they are handpicked.  There was a little colour, a gentle shade of orange pink, with some strawberry and raspberry fruit on the nose. Some weight and texture on the palate, with some exuberant fruit balanced with acidity, and a fresh finish.   It was delicious.

2012 Château des Deux Rocs, Blanc – 7.90€
This is a blend of equal parts of Muscat and Viognier.  It was quite peachy and aromatic.  Jean-Claude had not worked with either grape variety before and he finds them a little too exuberant and aromatic – his heart is really with Picpoul – so he put the wine into an old barrel for a few months and worked on the lees, which had the effect of reining in the aroma.  Nonetheless it was still quite rich and honeyed and I did prefer the Picpoul.  It will be interesting to see what he makes of his Grenache Blanc.

2012 Domaine des Deux Rocs Rouge  - 7.90€
60% Syrah and 40% Grenache, élevage in vat and bottled in the middle of May.  The assemblage is done as soon as the malo-lactic fermentation is finished.   Medium colour.  Some dry peppery fruit.  Quite a ripe palate with some supple tannins and a fresh finish.   Some very appealing spice, with lots of nuances and some satisfying balance.  A lovely glass of wine. 

A second cuvée is also in the pipeline, currently ageing in a barrel and will not be bottled until the autumn.

2010 la Bergerie d’Aniane – 14.90€
The only impact that Jean-Claude had on this wine was in the final blend, of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan.  The wine was in 20hls foudres.  There was some spice with some fruit and some supple tannins.  I also found it tasted a little alcoholic on the finish, although it was only 13.5˚, and there was a slight edge on the finish.   This is definitely work in progress, as Jean-Claude was very much dependent on the less than satisfactory work of others.  So we shall have to look forward to 2013 with Jean-Claude’s first wine, where he has run the vineyards and made the wine. 

And why Domaine de la Terre et du Temps ?   They represent three things that are very important to the vigneron.  Temps means both time and weather in French, and the vigneron is subject to both. Nor must we forget the importance of the soil.  Jean-Claude complained that so many people ask about grape varieties and forget about soil, and yet that is the basis of everything. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

2013 Terrasses du Larzac Ballade Vigneronne

The ballade vigneronne organised by the Terrasses du Larzac is one of the highlights of the summer wine calendar.  This year it was around the village of Montpeyroux, which is technically part of the Terrasses du Larzac, but which prefers to maintain its independence.  However, a handful of Montpeyroux producers were also invited to show their wines.    The summer arrived with a vengeance in the Languedoc last week, so the temperature was not ideal for walking, but fortunately all the wine growers were well prepared with large quantities of ice for keeping their wines chilled, so the heat  was more of an issue for people than for wine.  

The start of the walk was close to the tiny hamlet of Le Barry and our first étape was at a  vineyard called Montredon, with a mise en bouche, a chouquette aux olives et magret séché – I think a chouquette might best be described as a small bun, and it soaked up some wines nicely.

The vinous highlights were:
2012 La Bastide aux Oliviers blanc
Light colour; quite lemony on the nose, with some herbal notes on the palate.  Quite rounded, with good balancing acidity and a fresh finish.

Pascal Dallier from Domaine de Joncas was showing his very first rosé, Nébla 2012.  It is a blend of equal parts of Syrah and Grenache; the grapes were pressed and there was no fining or filtration.  Light colour.  A very ripe, fruity nose.  Very ripe and rounded and mouth filling on the palate.

And then we moved on to the next étape in an olive grove, with some truly venerable trees.  They apparently belong to an elderly lady, who had reluctantly allowed the terrain to be cleared of brambles and weeds, so that we could enjoy the hilltop position with a very welcoming breeze.  Highlights here:

2011 Mas de la Séranne, les Ombelles.   One third each of Grenache, Roussanne and Vermentino, with 15% oak fermentation and élevage.  A touch of oak, but the palate was quite rounded and leesy with some satisfying texture. 

Alice and Graeme Angus were pouring Les Trois Terres, 2010 Saut du Diable, from Graeme’s vineyards at St Jean de Blaquière.  Grenache is the dominant variety, with some Carignan and Syrah.  There was some rich cherry liqueur fruit on the nose, with ripe spice on the palate, and a balancing tannic streak.  Very satisfying and good value at 10.00€ - which  apparently is the minimum price for a Terrasses du Larzac

Jean-Baptiste Granier was showing his 2011 les Vignes Oubliées.  It was quite peppery on the nose, with a fresh peppery palate.  Medium weight and quite elegant.

And the accompanying dish was the most delicious foie gras hamburger – mini burger Rossini et peches caramélisées.  To die for!

The track then took us on through the vineyards of Aupilhac, which Sylvain Fadat had thoughtfully labelled, so that we knew which variety we were looking at.   

And there was also a sign telling us to keep out of his small plantation of truffle oaks – I wondered if it was wise to advertise their presence at all…….

Sylvain was pouring his 2012 Cocalières, which was rich and herbal, with lovely depth and very good acidity.  

Delphine and Julien Zernott from Domaine du Pas d’Escalette were showing their 2012 Ze Rosé.  It looked very delicate and pale with a fresh nose, and on the palate was surprisingly powerful, but with an underlying  elegance.  We made plans to go and buy some – Delphine having said that it was sold out, but that she might be able to find us a few bottles.

Beatrice and Sébastien Fillon from Clos du Serres were showing their first white wine, 2011 Le Saut du Poisson, a blend of Grenache blanc with some Roussanne and Rolle. 25% fermented and aged in oak.  There was a touch of oak on the nose, wand the palate was quite round, with weight and textured, and a dry tannic steak.  The wine is still very young and promises well.

2011 Château de Jonquières was a blend of principally Cinsaut and Carignan, with some Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache, all aged in vat.  It had some lovely spicy red fruit; medium weight, and quite fresh with a tannic steak, and refreshingly unoaked.  11.00€

Olivier Jeantet from Mas Haut Buis has some of the highest vineyards of the Languedoc.  His cuvée 2011 les Carlines is half Syrah, with Grenache and Carignan.  Quite a deep colour; a spicy nose, with a medium weight palate, and a good balance of fruit and tannin.  Kept in a tronconique vat.  Oliver enthused: j’adore ce millésime, the 2011.

So some lovely wines at this étape, but unfortunately the crème brûlée de langouste et son zeste d’orange was distinctly disappointing – especially after the previous course, which had raised our expectations.    And we could see the ruins of Le Castellas well above us, and realised with a certain amount of trepidation that that was where the meat course was situated, within the ruins of the old castle. It was quite a steep climb, but we were richly rewarded with some lovely wines from some of the star producers of the region, as well as fabulous views of the surrounding countryside, as far as Aniane and Gignac.

2010 la Réserve d’O
Lovely balance.  Some oak and some fruit, ripe and fresh, with a good streak of tannin and some satisfying depth.  Good ageing potential

2011 la Peira, les Obriers de la Peira
Medium colour.  Quite a solid nose.  Some oak and some freshness and some ripe fruit. Some smoky leathery notes.  Good depth and an intriguing finish.

2010 Mas Julien, les Etats d’Ame
Quite a firm structured nose, with some gamey notes, and even more so on the palate.  Nicely characterful.

2010 Mas des Chimères, Caminarem
Equal proportions of all five of the classic red varieties of the Languedoc.  Quite a deep colour.  Quite a solid rich leathery nose, with some berry fruit on the palate.  Good structure.  Quite a firm tannic note.

2010 Mas Cal Demoura, L’Infidèle
Deep colour; firm fruit on the nose with ripe black cherry fruit on the palate.  Very good tannins balancing the fruit, and still very youthful.

2010 Domaine de Montcalmès
Medium colour.  Quite firm structured red fruit.  Quite a closed palate.  A touch of oak.  Good balance, youthful with great potential. 

2011 Le Clos Rivieral, le Roc des Cistes
60% Syrah, 30% Grenache and some Carignan and a little Mourvèdre.  18 months in fut.  Olivier Bellet uses a concrete egg for his white wine.  Some lovely spice, ripe and balanced with good tannins.  A touch confit.  Some peppery Syrah notes.  Still very young.

2011 La Traversée – 24.50€
Gavin was back in England for a wedding so he had left his friend, John, pouring his wine.  Ripe berry fruit on the nose, and the palate, ripe with some firm tannins, and a harmonious balance with depth and elegance.    A lovely glass of wine.  John has 4 hectares of his own, in St Saturnin,  which he is converting to organic viticulture – and has found a cellar.  So watch this space.

And the last wine came from the Montpeyroux coop, 2010 Peyrou, and was a fraction of the price of its neighbours at 5.50€  A blend of Syrah and Grenache. Medium colour.  Fresh cherry fruit.  Medium weight with a tannic streak.  It defended  itself against its more expensive neighbours more than adequately. 

And to accompany all that we were given some magret with a cherry stuffing, with some fresh ravioli, with black truffles.  The ravioli was delicious, but the duck had been jogging round the hills of Montpeyroux – nevertheless our four-legged companion was delighted with our rejects. 

And then it was downhill to the cheese course in a small square in le Barry.  Cheese was a duo of tome de brebis and fresh goats’ cheese.   The best white wine of that flight was 2012 Plan de l’Homme, Flores  a blend of Roussanne with 10 % Grenache blanc.  It was light in colour, with some rounded white blossom fruit on nose and palate, with a satisfying texture. 

And the best red came from Estelle Salles, her 2011 Hommage, from Capitelle des Salles, a blend of Grenache 60% with 20% each of Carignan and Syrah.  12.00€  It was rounded and ripe with rich cherry fruit, as you would expect from a Grenache dominant cuvée.  And it was quite alcoholic at 14.5˚, but the Carignan provided a balancing tannic streak.

I also enjoyed Pascale Riviere's la Jasse Castel, 2010, les Combariolles.  The main grape variety is Grenache, with a little Carignan and Syrah.  There were some dry leathery notes, with some perfumed fruit  on the palate and a youthful finish. 

And a little further down the street we got to pudding, a fig clafoutis accompanied by a crème de lait à la fleur d’oranger et son cigare aux amandes.  The clafoutis was nice, but I wasn’t sure about the consistency of the crème, which was definitely not creamy.  And the first wine to taste, before pudding, was Villa Dondona’s 2011.  Jo and André were on their home patch, as they live in the hamlet.  The wine had rounded red and black fruit, with some spice and supple tannins, and a confit finish. 

And as well as  a dry red, Roland Almeras  from les Souls was also showing a late harvest  red, a blend of 60% Mourvèdre and 40% Grenache.   It was deep red in colour, with a rounded nose and opulently spicy cherries, balanced by tannin and acidity, and some underlying richness, rather than sweetness. 

And the best dessert white undoubtedly came from Charles Walter Pacaud, of Domaine la Croix Chaptal, with his 2008 Clairette Rancio Moelleux.  15€ - for a 50 cl. bottle.   It had spent three and a half year in wood, with no topping up, so that it had developed some flor, a voile as the French say.  The colour was amber, and the nose and palate rich and honeyed, with dry nutty notes and some balancing acidity.  That’s a totally inadequate tasting note, for a simply delicious wine, but by this time we were beginning to flag.  We had set out at 4 p.m. and it was now 10 p.m. and the light was falling and it was time to go home.   But it was a great walk.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Chateau Trillol in the Corbieres

The countryside of the Hautes Corbières is wild and dramatic.   You drive over the hills from Maury in Roussillon, past the ruined Cathar castle of Quéribus, to reach the village of Cucugnan.   On the other side of the valley is the strategic fortress of Peyrepertuse.  Cucugnan features in Alphonse Daudet’s Les Lettres de Mon Moulin, with his story about the curé of Cucugnan, who looked for his congregation in heaven, only to find them in hell.  The village boasts one of the best bakers of France, and an old windmill dominates the skyline, as well as statue of the virgin.  There is a tempting look restaurant, but we were not there for lunch.  Our destination was Chateau Trillol, whose wine won a Decanter trophy in their recent competition.  Also see also my pre-Christmas post.

First some background.  Peter Sichel, one of the eminent members of the British Bordeaux wine trade, first came to the Corbières in the late 1980s and had a coup de foudre for a bergerie at the foot of Peyrepertuse, which he bought as a holiday home.   He then realised that there was terrific potential in the vineyards, and so vineyards were bought and the first wines made in 1990.  Sadly Peter died in 1998 before he could achieve the full potential of the project but Château Trillol is now part of the Maison Sichel, and has been run by Henri and Martine Guiot since 1995.  

The Corbières is not an easy place to grow vines.  Although essentially Mediterranean, the climate is extreme; the wind is a problem as it can reach speeds of 100 kms per hour or more.  The vineyards lie at an altitude is 300 metres and the soil a mixture of clay and limestone.    Altogether they have 40 hectares of vines, in about 65 different parcels in two main plots, by Quéribus and towards Peyrepertuse..  Sadly time did not allow us to visit the vineyards.  They practice lutte raisonée, and are considering converting to organic viticulture.  The grape varieties are the classics of the Languedoc, Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Cinsaut, mostly about 25 years old, as they replanted extensively when the vineyards were bought, and for whites, Roussanne, but no longer any Marsanne – it was in the wrong place - and some 100 year old Macabeu.  The cellar is functional, a large shed with the usual concrete and stainless steel vats, and barriques. 

We tasted two vintages of the white Château Trillol, la Dame d’Argent, the 2011 and 2009.
A blend of Macabeu and Roussanne and the two vintages offered an interesting comparison.  The 2009 was partly fermented in oak, just 15% and then given a five months élevage in barrel.   This was an experiment, but Henri found  that the oak removed the fruit and freshness, although it added body and richness.   Now he favours a slow fermentation in vat at 12ºC, taking one to two months, adding that in any case Roussanne has a tendency to develop aromas that make you think it has been in oak, with a certain tannic quality, so it does not need oak.  And three months on the fine lees adds some texture. 

2011 – Elegant and fresh, with some white blossom on nose and palate, while the 2009 was more golden in colour.  Quite rounded with nice texture, but a slightly drying taste of oak.  White Corbières is pretty unusual, accounting for just 5% of the appellation.   It requires two grape varieties, with a minimum of 15% in the vineyard for the second variety.

There are just four estates in the villages, Domaine du Grand Arc, and two very small ones, Domaine du Verdouble after the local river, and Les Vingt Citadelles.  The village cooperative has joined up with that of Tailairan.  Thirty years ago there were three local coops, with Rouffiac and Duilhac as well. They initially pooled their resources, but even so failed to survive.   A sorry but not uncommon story.  The village survives on tourism and la chasse, more than wine.

2012 Rosé – 5.90€
85%  Grenache with 15% Cinsaut.  Saigné after a few hours.  Another slow fermentation – it is all treated very carefully.  Henri said he does not like going fast.  A touch of raspberry on the nose.  Nicely filling out on the palate with a vinous touch, good acidity and nice depth and balance.

And now onto reds, all Corbieres:

2011 Le Fruité – 5.90€
50% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 20% Carignan.  20% carbonic maceration, usually for the Carignan. An élevage in vat for four or five months  Medium colour.  Some red fruit with a dry leathery note.  Quite rounded red fruit on the palate, some supple tannins. It is intended for early drinking, but will last.

2008 Château Trillol – the trophy winner  8.00€
The style has evolved.  Up to 2005 it was given a long vinification, with lots of extraction and an élevage in old Bordeaux barriques.  It was elegant, but had lost the freshness of the fruit, which they really wanted to retain.  So they have moved towards less extraction and shorter macerations of 20 – 25 days, with remontages and delestages,.  Henri keeps taking samples and stops when he has enough fruit. And the élevage is in 350 litres barrels, from various different coopers, mostly from the south west, Boutes in Narbonne, St. Martin in Buzet, and a cognac cooper – he has tried Seguin Moreau but didn’t like it.  The oak comes from the centre of France and he varies the toasting, feeling that variety enhances the quality.

The blend is Grenache, 38% Syrah 34% and Carignan 28%- 50% aged in wood for ten months, of which one third is new.  Ripe fruit on the nose and palate; some well integrated oak, with a good tannin balance.  Very elegant. Harmonious and balanced and still very youthful.  2008 was an easy year, with no climatic extremes .

2009 Chateau Trillol 
42% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 23% Carignan.  Medium young colour.  Rounded fruit.  Very harmonious, with good structure and tannins.  Smoky fruit.  Balanced and youthful,   Very good potential.   Henri described this as a fabulous vintage, and better balanced than 2008

47% Grenache, 28% Carignan, 25% Syrah.  Quite firm young fruit.  Medium colour. Quite firm youthful leathery notes on the nose and palate, with some dry spiciness and silky tannins and red fruit.  However it was a tricky vintage.  They had a terrible storm on 5th May; the temperature fell to 0ºC, with 120 km/hour winds, so the vegetation was burnt.  The vines took 15 days to come to life again, but 20% of the crop was lost. And then there was summer hail.  July was cool and there was 300 mm of rain in two days during the harvest.  Fortunately that was followed by the tramontane, which dried everything up.  They waited for ten days and then started picking.  So a surprisingly successful vintage considering the climatic adversity.  But ready for drinking earlier than 2009

2011 Henri described as fabulous – would that every year was like that.  They had a spring with rain and sun, and good weather at flowering, a little rain in the summer, just when it was  needed, and perfect weather at the harvest.  But none was ready for tasting yet.

The final wine was the Cuvée Prestige, a selection of what they like best, and given one year in new wood. 2009 is a blend of 40% Carignan, 35% Syrah and 25% Grenache, all maceration carbonique.  Deep young colour.  Quite dense youthful smoky oak.  Very silky tannins, rounded and elegant.  Lots of depth and length, and full of promise.   15.00€

2008 Cuvee Prestige - 15.00€
Half Grenache and half Syrah, and no Carignan, as that did not perform well in 2008. Quite a deep colour.  More rounded nose, very ripe with supple fruit from the Grenache and peppery Syrah notes.  More shoulders; whereas 2009 was more elegant; this is more powerful.

I asked Henri about the tipicity of Carignan.  He talked of fraicheur which comes from the altitude, and elegant tannins, with depth and structure, but not weight.  And what about the putative cru of Quéribus, that was talked of a few years ago, when the cru of Boutenac was created.  No, that idea is defunct.